Heidi Hayes grew up on a farm in Tennessee and went to a private small-town college in Michigan. When she visited a federal prison to meet with a death-row inmate last year, it was far from her realm of experience. She was amazed by the high-level security, by the starkness of the environment. This wasn’t an ordinary prison; its residents included Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber.

Hayes, a 3L at Northwestern, had gone to the prison just outside St. Louis, Missouri, with two other law students to interview Daryl Johnson, a former leader of Chicago’s Gangster Disciples street gang. Johnson stood convicted of ordering the deaths of two low-level gang members who had been cooperating with the FBI in trying to bring down the Disciples. Under the Federal Anti-Terrorism and Death Penalty Act, passed by Congress in 1994, he received the federal death penalty.